Monday, July 29, 2013

Movie No. 136. Cinemalaya 2013: PORNO

Porno (2013)
Director: Adolfo B. Alix Jr.
Cast: Carlo Aquino, Angel Aquino, Yul Servo, Rosanna Roces

Synopsis: An assassin, a porn dubber and a transgender. Three souls. One explicit illusion. To find the ultimate in their empty lives. A safe haven, where passion and love mean humanity, ecstasy means enlightenment; and the soul is the ultimate arbiter of the truth.

I was completely lost in the narrative of the film. Right after I saw it, I checked the synopsis in the festival brochure (see preceding paragraph). Yes, I entered the theater without a clue about what the film was about. Lo and and behold, I couldn't identify what the synopsis says what the film is about. Obviously, Porno is an art film. But it's main fault is that it tries desperately hard to be artsy to the point that it becomes incoherent. It took a while before I realized the connection of the three major characters and when I did, I really laughed out loud realizing it was too forced. But there's one that's easily noticeable in the film: the cinematography is excellent. Probably it's the best among the films in the festival that I've seen so far.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: July 27, 2013

Movie No. 135. Cinemalaya 2013: BABAGWA

Babagwa (Spider's Lair) (2013)
Director: Jason Paul Laxamana
Cast: Alex Vincent Medina, Joey Paras, Alma Concepcion

Synopsis: An internet scammer falls in love with a wealthy old maid while trying to swindle her using a fake Facebook profile.

This film is timely. It is evident in the narrative that the writers did an expansive research on the topic. There are many things that are noteworthy in the film. First and foremost, the style - using a different actor for the fake identity. The tale of the monkey and the turtle, which all of us are familiar with, somewhat prepares the audience to the film's conclusion. This is being told by an elementary school teacher to his pupils. The teacher is one of the scams' prey. For an audience who pays attention to the planting of this scene, this can be a spoiler. In fact, I predicted the film's conclusion on the basis of this scene. And I was right!

Alex Vincent Medina is quite convincing as a reluctant scammer. Joey Paras' acting, while many would perceive to be outstanding, is so theatrical. But he's good, in general, as the scheming mentor to Medina's character. This film could have been great; the director was not brave enough to come up with a non-conventional ending. The ending, though not bad, is a let down for being too safe and almost a cliche!

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 27, 2013

Movie No. 134. Cinemalaya 2013: JAZZ IN LOVE

Jazz in Love (2013)
Director: Baby Ruth Villarama-Gutierrez

Jazz in Love is a documentary film; it's the opening film of this year's edition of Cinemalaya. It's very rare that a documentary film opens any film festival. So, I was expecting something worthwhile when I saw the film. I did see this something. An article in GMA News Onlite site describes it as milestone in local documentaries. I don't totally agree. While this maybe the first documentary of this particular theme that has ever graced a local film festival, to label it a milestone may be inappropriate. But despite this, the topic is still interesting: that of a young man studying German as a preparation for his marriage to his fifty-ish German boyfriend, who's a soldier. There is no innovation in the way the story is presented.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: July 26, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Movie No. 133 (2013): TAKING WOODSTOCK

Taking Woodstock (2009)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Dan Fogler, Liev Schreiber

"Woodstock Festival" was an important and historical music festival that happened for four days in 1969. This film, Taking Woodstock, is about what was happening elsewhere in the vicinity during this event. So, we never see rock artists play in any of the scenes in the movie. That's okay; however, I feel disconnected from the characters that the narrative follows despite that there are so many aspects of the society (that time) and of the personality clash of some characters that could be interesting.
Ang Lee has made important films that are of varied genre and almost all of these are praise-worthy. But not this particular film. It's not really bad but I can't say it's worth-recommending.
Rating: 2.5/4.0
Date seen: July 21, 2013

Movie No. 132 (2013): TUHOG

Tuhog (2013)
Director: Veronica Velasco
Cast: Leo Martinez, Eugene Domingo, Enchong Dee, Jake Cuenca
In Tagalog/Filipino

This kind of movie is a sort of respite from inane blockbuster comedies or rehashed love stories with ridiculous story lines that major local film companies are force-feeding the general moviegoers in the country. The movie may not go down in the history of the local film industry as one of the greatest films ever made but it is something that can linger on one's mind for a while. It's structure is not original but that's the only plausible template for this kind of film. And it's executed well in the film.

"When a random bus ride with random passengers becomes a metaphor for life" is the central idea of the movie. Simple. But the simple yet realistic back stories of the three major characters that got caught up in the bus make the movie quite inviting. It has the magnet to involve the audience, even as a mere spectator of the goings on in every scene. This a well-acted film where even the support and bit players do their job very well. It is the character of Leo Martinez that I care about most; Leo Martinez shines in this movie.

I intentionally do not mention of what happens at the start of the movie and some imporatant scenes to point out lest I'd spill some potential spoilers that will ruin the viewing experience of those who intend to watch this. It's still showing, by the way.

I have only two (very) minor complaints: some minor lapses in production design and the ending comes too soon. But I like how the movie ends.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 17, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Movie No. 131 (2013): MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Animation from Studio Ghibli (In Japanese, with English subtitles)

This is my second viewing of this film. The first time, if I remember it right, was 10 or 11 years ago. I remember liking it very much then and that's the reason I decided to see it again. I already forgot most part although there's a lot of scenes that stayed in my head, but not coherently arranged to weave a story.

The film is an animation made the traditional way - hand drawn. And that's a good thing. That's a respite from the CGIs that have been proliferating for almost two decades now. My Neighbor Totoro has a very simple story line that's very appropriate for a children's movie. Innocence and family are central to the film's story. I actually wished I saw it when I was a kid. It would have made a greater impact on me. But, even if I was already in my early 30's when I first saw it, I was in complete awe of it's simplicity. This is a kind of film that has no conflict. There are no twists. There is no villain. There is no impending doom. The main characters are two playful kids, which are sisters who befriend a gentle giant of a lovable creature (Totoro) that only they can see.

I don't want to go on describing the film and what I feel about. It is simply great. It's a kind of film that will mostly be enjoyed by children. And some of these children when they grow up may not outgrow it, just like Winnie The Pooh. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 14, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

Movie No. 130 (2013): MAMA

Mama (2013)
Director: Andres Muschietti
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolai Coster-Waldau

This is the story of a mother who had never moved on, even after her death, from the death of her infant more than a century ago. She then took into her (possessive) care two children who were about to be killed by their disturbed father. Five years later, these children were found by their uncle and were taken back into civilization. Then horror perpetrated by the jealous ghost would begin.

This is an old-fashioned horror film and, as such, is really a visual treat. The story line is quite complex but the progression of the plot is cunning and buildup of suspense awesome. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 7, 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Movie No. 129 (2013): EAST-WEST

East-West (Est-Ouest) (1999)
Director: Regis Wargnier
Cast: Oleg Menshikov, Catherine Deneuve, Sandrine Bonnaire, Sergei Bodrov Jr.
In French and Russian, with English subtitles

Synopsis: June 1946. Stalin invites Russian emigres to return to the motherland. It's a trap: when a shipload from France arrives in Odessa, only a physician and his family are spared execution or prison. He and his French wife (her passport ripped up) are sent to Kiev. She wants to return to France immediately; he knows that they are captives and must watch every step. By chance, she meets a touring French actress and pleads for help. She also takes a young swimmer under her wing, and several years later, he makes a bold attempt to escape. Meanwhile, the KGB is suspicious, and hope for freedom. Patience, her husband's self control, and her good looks may be their only assets. - from

I see this film as one that is about love in all of its forms. Love of family, love of country, love of freedom, love of oneself, and even selfless love. We may not agree with any of the characters' actions in some instances but we surely understand them given the circumstances they're in. The way the relationships and interactions of the four main characters are written and translated into screen is one of the best things about the film. I could only applaud after I saw the film. 

This film got nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category of Academy Awards in 1999.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 7, 2013

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Movie No. 128 (2013): LOOPER

Looper (2012)
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

Okay. I got thrilled. I got confused. But the most important thing is that I was in complete awe watching the film. The film is set at some time in the future where time machine is already perfected (although its use is still illegal) in a society where committing a crime and getting away with it is completely difficult. So, crime syndicates dump would-be salvage victims or troublesome people into the time machine; Loopers, or the lowly-paid assassins in the 'other time,' await for them to kill them. It gets interesting when the young self tracks his old self to "kill and close the loop."

The film is smart ans its writing is intelligent. It's not perfect, but it's outstanding!

Date seen: June 30, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Movie No. 127 (2013): CAPE NO. 7

Cape No. 7 (2008)
Director: Te-Sheng Wei
Cast: Van Fan, Chie Tanaka
In Mandarin, with English subtitles

A failed aspiring rock star (Aga) gives up his dream and, on his motorcycle, finally left Taipei for South Taiwan, his home. Back home, his stepfather finds him a job as mailman. 

The film has two independent time lines which may or may not be connected. One is that of the present's, the one involving Aga and his interactions with local people and unexpected romance with a foreigner. The other is that of an unnamed teacher's brief affair with a local girl during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the 1940s. 

The film may be regarded as romance-comedy. Actually, it's hilarious most of the time. But the kind of romance and comedy that you can see in the film is one that you may not have seen in other movies of the same genre, particularly the commercial ones. In addition, all the characters are so interesting that you will care about them. This could have been the reason why it was a huge hit in Taiwan the time it was shown. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: June 23, 2013